Blackhawks

After quiet trade deadline, what's next for Blackhawks?

After quiet trade deadline, what's next for Blackhawks?

A year ago, the Blackhawks were clear sellers going into the NHL trade deadline because of what they had and where they were at in the standings. They shipped out Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels, and collected future assets in the form of draft picks and prospects.

This year was different. Very different, to the point where they left the roster as currently constructed by the 2 p.m. deadline.

"A couple things were on the borderline of happening, but at the end of the day we weren't determined to make a trade just to make you guys happy," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said. "It had to make sense for where we're at, both short term and long term, and nothing came together." 

The Blackhawks weren't in a position where they could be true buyers or sellers. They were right in the middle. But they weren't necessarily quiet on deadline day because they felt stuck in between. They want to start building the roster back up and accumulating pieces that could help now but also in the bigger picture, similar to the two trades they made earlier in the season in acquiring Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula. And nothing materialized. 

So what's next for the Blackhawks?

While it was an uneventful trade deadline day, that doesn't figure to be the case this summer. The Blackhawks are expected to have north of $15 million in cap space, and that could increase even more depending on whether or not they shed additional contracts and how much the ceiling goes up. It's a big opportunity for the Blackhawks to speed up the process in a deep free-agent class.

"That's part of it," Bowman said. "Reshaping your team doesn't happen overnight. It's a process. It's not one or two moves. I think the process has begun already with some of the trades that we have made. You look back at where we were four months ago to the team we have now, and some things have changed for the better.

"We've really got two pretty reliable consistent offensive lines. Some of those guys — Caggiula wasn't here and he's been a nice addition, and same thing with Strome. Those moves have already happened. We're going to probably look at reshaping our team through potential trades between now and next season, as well as free agency. Those are the two ways as well as players graduating from junior to the American League or the American League to the NHL."

The Blackhawks are also excited about who they have in the pipeline that could push for full-time roster spots next season. Henri Jokiharju is in Rockford right now, but top defensemen prospects Nicolas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell could also be on the way soon and make the competition interesting. 

Clearly, there aren't enough spots for everyone and they're not likely to all be broken in at once. But that's a good problem to have, and gives the Blackhawks options in several different areas.

"Having too many players, I've never been concerned about that," Bowman said. "I would much rather have lots of options. Because when you do, then you can use them to fill in the gaps somewhere else. If we got too many guys coming and they're all going to help our team, I would take that position any day. So that's not a bad thing."

The results have finally come around for the Blackhawks on a more consistent basis. There are certainly still some holes to fill, but they're getting a lot of what they had hoped would happen from last season: Bounce-back seasons from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, a big next step for Alex DeBrincat, the emergence of Dylan Strome and a nice find in Collin Delia.

Now there's a desire to start adding around to the pieces they have in place. But there's no definitive timeline on when they hope to be Stanley Cup contenders again.

"The goal is to keep progressing year to year, so a year from now we want to be in a better spot than we are now," Bowman said. "Where that is in the standings, I don't know. We're not trying to map it out that precisely, other than to say we want to be in a better spot than we are today, and the same thing for the year after that. We're headed in the right direction for sure. The timing on how all of that happens, there's a lot of factors. It's hard to predict it. But we want to be a team that's in a better spot a year from now than we are now."

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Golden Knights All-Star Max Pacioretty expected to return for Game 1 vs. Blackhawks

Golden Knights All-Star Max Pacioretty expected to return for Game 1 vs. Blackhawks

The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to get a major boost going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After suffering a minor injury during Phase 3 of formal training camps that forced him to miss all three round-robin games, Max Pacioretty is "in the bubble" of Edmonton and should be ready to go for Game 1 of the first round against the Blackhawks. He completed his mandatory quarantine and will practice with the team on Monday, head coach Pete DeBoer said.

A six-time 30-goal scorer, Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in the regular season with 32 goals and 66 points. He participated in the NHL All-Star Game in January for the first time in his career and was the lone representative for Vegas.

Expect Pacioretty to play on the first line with Mark Stone. When the two of them were on the ice together at even strength this season, the Golden Knights controlled 60.6 percent of the shot attempts, 64.8 percent of the scoring chances and had a goal differential of plus-18, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Golden Knights were already a deep team. And they just got even more dangerous with the return of Pacioretty.

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Why Blackhawks are in for 'big test' against Vegas in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Why Blackhawks are in for 'big test' against Vegas in Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Blackhawks had their work cut out for them in the qualifying round against the Edmonton Oilers. It was all about containing the two best players in the world in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, both of whom weren’t as much of a factor at even strength as we’re used to seeing in a competitive series that lasted four games.

But the Blackhawks are about to face a different beast in the Vegas Golden Knights, who locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The two teams will square off in a best-of-seven series in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks watched the Golden Knights’ round-robin finale on Saturday from their suite at Rogers Place, getting an up-close look at their next opponent. And they know they're in for a challenge.

"They're a good team," Kirby Dach said. "They're deep up front, they have good defense, obviously great goaltending. They play the game fast, they're smart, they're a disciplined team. We just know we're going to have to keep elevating our game to compete and hopefully win the series, but we have a long way to go. It's going to be a battle. We've got to be ready each and every night because we know they're going to bring it."

The Golden Knights went 3-0 in round-robin play, beating the No. 1 offensive team (Colorado) and No. 1 defensive team (Dallas) in the West, and defending Stanley Cup champions (St. Louis) by a combined score of 15-10. And they didn't even look their best.

But when they are at their best, the Golden Knights are seemingly unbeatable.

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The Golden Knights ranked No. 1 this season in even-strength shot attempts from the slot for (25.4 per game) and even-strength shots on net from the slot (15.1), according to Sportlogiq. They also ranked No. 1 in even-strength shot attempts from the slot against (18.8).

The Golden Knights are just as good of an offensive team than they are defensively at even strength and can come at you in waves.

"They seem to use all four lines a little more than Edmonton did," Connor Murphy said. "Edmonton had their top two or three forwards that carried a lot of the offense and played a lot of minutes and seemed to have a lot of possession in their hands. It'll be definitely different defending against that team game and that simple pressure and speed that they have. They play that playoff-style game as well. That'll be something that we look at these next couple days, and either adjust or roll with."

To cap it off, the Golden Knights have arguably the best goaltending duo in the playoffs with Marc-Andre Fleury and former Chicago netminder Robin Lehner. It remains unclear who will start Game 1, but there might not be a wrong choice.

Put it all together and you have a Golden Knights team that doesn't have many holes on their roster.

"They’re an excellent team," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Very good defensively, stingy defensively, but they’ve created a lot going the other way, too. We know we’re going to have to raise our level. It’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re excited about it."